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Michigan GOP lawmakers, party chair try to cast doubt on routine elections request

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 12/5/2020 Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press
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Michigan Republican lawmakers and the head of the state Republican Party are raising concerns about a standard elections-related memo Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson recently sent to local clerks.  

Rep. Matt Hall, R-Emmett Township, Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, and MIGOP Chairwoman Laura Cox all issued news  releases Friday about a memo sent earlier this week by Benson's office to local clerks. Part of the memo tells clerks to delete electronic poll book software and associated files "unless a petition for recount has been filed and the recount has not been completed, a post-election audit is planned but has not yet been completed, or the deletion of the data has been stayed by an order of the court or the Secretary of State." 

Michigan GOP chair Laura Cox is being interview ahead of Michigan Republican Party Election Night Celebration at Lansing Center in Lansing, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. © Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press Michigan GOP chair Laura Cox is being interview ahead of Michigan Republican Party Election Night Celebration at Lansing Center in Lansing, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Records show it is standard procedure after an election in Michigan — a request sent for years to clerks under Republican and Democratic secretaries that is intended to keep voter records secure. In his release though, Hall called it "concerning," while Cox asked, "What are the Democrats hiding?" 

Rudy Giuliani et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani presents testimony regarding alleged election irregularities to the Michigan House Oversight Committee Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020 at the Anderson House Office Building in Lansing. © Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani presents testimony regarding alleged election irregularities to the Michigan House Oversight Committee Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020 at the Anderson House Office Building in Lansing.

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Jake Rollow, a spokesman for Benson, said, the state has not deleted any of the electronic poll book software or files in its possession related to the November election and reiterated its request to clerks about deleting similar information is standard.

 "For years it has sent the same post-election memo to all clerks reminding them to remove voters’ personal information from their machines in order to protect the personal identifying information of voters," Rollow said. 

"This is a critical data security measure. Importantly, poll book records are not lost in this process because prior to deleting any files, all data in the e-pollbooks are printed and hard copies are retained."

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Cox, Michigan Republicans and other supporters of President Donald Trump have repeatedly questioned the integrity of the November election and its outcome in the state. Earlier this week, Hall and McBroom held separate oversight hearings where Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and other Trump supporters spent hours spreading inaccurate and misleading information about election operations. 

No one has presented credible evidence of widespread election fraud in Michigan. President-elect Joe Biden won the state by roughly 154,000 votes.

Hall and McBroom sent a letter Friday to Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey asking them to clarify  whether they have deleted this information. Benson has already pledged to conduct a postelection "performance audit" in Wayne County. 

In a phone call late Friday, Hall said, "I agree with you that this letter that has gone out in the past." But he said he thought the letters and news release were important to clear up any confusion that may have come from the memo. 

In November, the Legislature sent subpoenas to Benson's office, asking it to provide records relevant to the election. While Benson's office has provided more than 1,100 pages of documents to date, Hall said the letter is intended to ensure they do not delete any information that should be provided to the Legislature. 

"We sent this letter because we’re just trying to clear up any perceived ambiguity — and I think those are the two key words," Hall said.

"I'm not saying it was deleted, I'm just saying we want to clear up any perceived ambiguity here."

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An electronic poll book manual issued by the Michigan Bureau of Elections in September 2020 reiterates this information should be deleted unless there is a need to keep it. A state memo from 2015 — when now state Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, was secretary of state — also notes "all files and programs associated with the installation and use of the (electronic poll book) be deleted no later than seven days after the canvass of the election."

The electronic pollbook software allows clerks to perform routine election functions previously done by hand, according to the state electronic poll book manual. It accesses data that is already available to election officials, but does so in a way that is easier and faster, and allows for the creation of reports after an election. 

"Once the EPB software is loaded on the laptop, the software allows election inspectors to look up a voter’s registration record, confirm their registration is correct, and assign a ballot to that voter, essentially automating the typical paper process," the manual states.

"After the election is complete, the EPB software will generate reports to complete the official precinct record (paper binder pollbook) and a voter history file that can be uploaded into the (qualified voter file) to update voter history in a matter of minutes." 

Even if the software is deleted, the secretary of state and clerks still have access to voter registration records, final pollbooks from local municipalities, voter histories and the qualified voter file. 

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The manual expressly tells clerks to delete data seven days after the election, mirroring the language in Benson's memo. 

"Delete all EPB files seven days after the final canvas (unless there is a pending recount, court challenge, or audit/Secretary of State order). This keeps voter data secure and prevents the wrong files from being used in future elections," the manual states. 

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers certified election results on Nov. 23, following the certification of results by all 83 counties in the state. On Dec. 14, Michigan's 16 delegates to the Electoral College will cast their votes for Biden, who will assume the presidency in January. 

Contact Dave Boucher at dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan GOP lawmakers, party chair try to cast doubt on routine elections request

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